Play Ball Tug Hulett!

This is the 24th and final (?) installment in my series on Christian Baseball Players. And what a journey it has been.  Tonight we finish off with a peek into the Washington Nationals farm team and middle infielder Tug Hulett.

As I was digging into stories from the Washington Nationals, looking for what I was supposed to share here, and a name caught my attention.  The name was Tug Hulett.  His name caught my eye for 2 reasons. First, he goes by the name Tug – pretty unusual – the only other one that I have come across was also a baseball player (Mets/Phillies star pitcher from 1965-1984’s Tug McGraw).

The second reason I paid attention was the last name.  I used to collect baseball cards in my youth, and remembered this card from my collection with Tim Hulett rocking the now throwback White Sox uniform (My favorite of their uniform incarnations in my life time)  I often check ebay, hoping to find this era White Sox jersey at a good price for my jersey collection).

So, with this bit of name recognition and the fact that Tug is now in the Nationals system (they were the only team I had not yet featured in this series), I decided to check out his story.  And again, the story that I read is one of tragedy, pain, faith on and dependency in Christ and opportunity to see this awful tragedy turned into something positive that strengthens Hulett’s faith, and draws others closer to the Great Comforter.  Here is the story as it appears on Tug Hulett’s  Team Jam web site.

Hulett was the oldest of 4 competitive boys.  Their dad played big league baseball.  On the surface it seems like a great life – fame, opportunity.  I know that to grow up around the ball field, getting to hang out with people that others your age idolize – sounds like a great way to grow up.  But a life that seems so wonderful is not without its tragedy.  Tug Hulett watched as his younger brother was struck by a car and killed, and then carried the blame and feelings of responsibility around with him for 2 years.  I can’t imagine any part of that scenario.

What we see in this story is that wealth and fame do not prepare you to deal with life when it gets hard.  Only a strong foundation of support that is based on genuine relationship with Jesus Christ can help meet that need when tragedy strikes.  And that is what we see from this story – a family that turned to God for help when they faced this unimaginable hardship, and rallied around each other to stay strong and grow from this awful experience.   They immediately turned to God for help, peace and comfort.  They knew that God could give them the strength to carry on, and they knew that they could find this peace nowhere else.

And I love the way God works.  Not only does he sustain us through the hard times in life.  He then uses our experiences and what we learn from them so we can, in turn, help others.  We see this in the story of Joseph in Genesis.  He went through incredible difficulties.  And in the end, he is able to take all these bad things, and see how God used them for a great purpose, to save many people, including his very own family.  What the devil intendeds for evil, God used for good.

God is using Tug Hulett and his story to touch lives too.  Here is another account of Hulett’s story, and how he is using it to reach out to others by sharing his story at schools.

 This is what our God can do, and He likes to do it too.  So as we face the hard things that life brings, remember that He is in control, look for Him at work in the midst, and be ready to share how amazing our God is as He gives us opportunities to share with others from our experiences.

Play Ball Brian Roberts!

This is the 23rd installment in my series on Christian Baseball Players.  Today, we check out the story of Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts.

Brian Roberts website

I have been a fan of Brian Roberts for several years – even before I knew that we shared faith in God.  And so it was kind of disappointing to hear his name mentioned among the rumored Steroid users in the Mitchell Report.  I thought to myself – how dare he.  By this time, I knew that he was a Christ-follower.  You can read this article from his website that talks about his involvement with Fellowship of Christian Athletes .  And so I wondered how he could be into the cheating scene.  Several lessons have since surfaced as I considered the story and my reaction to it.

First, I must admit that I had great admiration about how he handled his name’s appearance in the report.  He quickly admitted that he did indeed, on one occasion, use steroids.  You can read his admission here from the Baltimore Sun’s coverage.  You can also read his testimony and how he sees being a role model in this article from Cornerstone Connection Christian Magazine. He says that he did it, and knew right away that it was wrong.  He is humble, genuine and up front with his story – not appearing to hide anything.  He admitted fault, asked for forgiveness and pledged that it would not happen again.

Career stats

Here is my first lesson.  As a Christian, I need to have this same kind of attitude about sin in my life.  To be up front about it, not trying to hide anything (since God knows everything anyway) Like Roberts, we must be humble and ready to admit our wrong doing and pledge that it will not happen again.  That is what repentance means – to turn completely away from.  We must admit our wrong doings to God and also be willing to confess our sins to each other as the bible instructs us to do in James 5.  And the true beauty of all of this is that God forgives us, no matter what we have done, or how many times we have turned away from God to go our own way.  When we confess our sins and repent the Bible tells us that God will forgive us ,

My second lesson – In this blog series, it is important that I admit to myself that I walk a very fine line.  I want to commend these athletes on their stand, even in public, to follow the beliefs of their faith and let their relationship with God guide their choices and actions.  But at the same time, each person that I write about here is human, and like the rest of us, are flawed people – sinners in need of a gracious Savior.  We all have heros, and unfortunately, we can tend to idolize them.  As we take a close look at their lives, we are reminded of their faults and that they are not to be idolized. The only hero that we need, and the only example to follow is that of Christ.

And my third and final lesson that I will share with you this time is this.  As a blogger looking to share what God is doing in and through the lives of these athletes, I must be sure to include the good and the bad that they have gone through.  As we see God at work in the stories of flawed people, ourselves included, we see that God is gracious, forgiving and in control.  He can use the mistakes, bad choices and sin in our life to reach out to others around us as much or more as He can use our successes and victories.

So thank you Brian Roberts for your honesty, and for your willingness to be real even in the public eye.
Thank you for helping me keep perspective on my “heros” and focus my attention on following the one true example that we have – Jesus Christ!

Play Ball Carlos Ruiz!

This is the 22nd installment in my series on Christian baseball players.  This time, we head to Philadelphia and look into the story of their star catcher – Carlos Ruiz.

It has been a lot of fun, in this series, to dig into the lives of these men; to read their stories and to remind myself that these guys are not simply characters in a drama – unflappable, without a care in the world, there purely for our entertainment.  No, these men, like everyone else in the world, have a story.

career stats

And Carlos Ruiz, like the others I’ve touched on in this series, has an amazing story. You can read about his life and the challenges he faces, in this article from Sports Illustrated. Here are some highlights from Ruiz’ life.   His story had it’s tone set in tragedy when, as a young boy in his native Panama, he dealt with the unexpected death of his father.  As the oldest son, he took on the responsibility of being man of the house, and provider, working hard laborious jobs from the age of 10 to help his family.  He also made a promise that he would make it as a big league baseball player.

At the age of 19, he went to the Phillies’  baseball academy in Dominican Republic.  It was a hard, competitive experience – one that would lead Ruiz to try a new position – catcher –  as he was deemed too slow to play his chosen position -Second Base.

He stuck with it and worked his way through the Phillies farm system  for the next 8 years.   He finally got his chance when the Phillies called him up in May, 2006.  He played 27 games for them that year, and has played in over 100 games for them every year since.

How has Ruiz turned himself into what ESPN writer Jayson Stark called “the most underrated catcher in baseball”?  He gets on base – a lot. and more than that, he knows how to handle a pitching staff.  It is more than giving a target and catching a pitch.  He has become someone who can motivate, challenge, and guide his staff to success.  He claims some responsibility when things don’t work out (He takes each game, at bat, and hit personally)

Last year, he even received a few votes in the NL MVP voting, finishing tied for 15th.  Ruiz has walked a long, challenging path to the majors.  Part of what has helped him keep focus and perspective is his relationship with Christ.  He became a Christ follower 4 years ago, and on a team with lots of Christian players, He is learning to share his faith with others, and use his fame to tell others about what God has done in his life.  You can read a story of the first time Carlos Ruiz shared his testimony, speaking at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event in this article.

perfect game

Ruiz has become one of the top catchers in all of baseball. It  is his understanding of the game, the batters that his pitcher will face, and the situations and nuances of baseball that has made him so good.  This knowledge and the way he works with his pitchers has lead to them being able to trust him completely with the game that he calls.

For example, last year, Roy Halliday –  one of the best pitchers in baseball threw 2 no-hitters in the same year. Ruiz not only caught both games, but over the course of the 219 pitches that he called in the two games combined, Halliday shook off exactly 1 Ruiz suggestion for a pitch.  The other 218 times, what Ruiz called, Ruiz got.  This is a tribute both to the trust Halliday has in his catcher, and the ability Ruiz has to call the right pitch in the right place at the right time.

Earlier in this series, I wrote about lessons the catcher can teach us about our spiritual life.  There are some more lessons that come to mind as I looked at the story of Carlos Ruiz.  He is known for the way that he handles the pitching staff.  He is the main catcher, which means that he catches games that all of them throw.  He must know each pitcher completely – how they pitch, their rhythm, the signs of when they are starting to lose focus, or starting to tire, and how they react to adversity.  He then must use what he knows to help each pitcher work the most effectively.  He may be able to yell at some and get in their face to challenge them, while others, he needs to pat on the back and be more gentle with.  This is an important part of the catcher/pitcher relationship.  And it is a great skill to have to live in community and work toward a common goal, too.  As believers, we have a role to play – we are all part of the body of Christ.  The role of some will be encouragers/motivators.  Sometimes, this will be done directly – a calling to attention things that can change to help someone else be the best that they can.

Ruiz is adept at working with the pitchers, supporting them and bringing out the best in them.  Oh that we could all do that in the task of sharing God’s love to the world around us!  Support each other, encourage one another, and if needed, call each other out in a way that will lead to refocusing on God’s plan and carrying it out at all costs.

Play Ball Brett Gardner!

This is the 21st installment in my blog series on Christian Baseball Players.  Our trip through all the teams in the major leagues brings us to New York Yankees and outfielder Brett Gardner.

career stats

As a long time Red Sox fan, I have a hard time admitting that I like any of the Yankees, but they do have several players that are easy to cheer for.  Brett Gardner is one of them.

I think the reason that I connect and relate to Gardner is because we are very similar in build and in game (when I played little league that is) – good eye at the plate, intelligence on the base paths, and way more speed than power.

In fact, the only home run of my “career” was a sight to see.  I slapped a hit down the first base line.  I was almost at second when the right fielder picked up the ball and fired it back to the infield,  but to his surprise, his throw hit an overhanging branch from a nearby tree and fell back to the ground 15 feet in front of him.  By the time he gathered the ball again and threw it back into the infield, I was safely home.

Gardner and Alyssa Esposito.
She told him he’d hit a home run that night.

It seems funny then that this story will center around a Brett Gardner home run hit in May 2009.

I came across this Guideposts story that Gardner himself wrote in the fall of 2009 when he met a young patient at a local hospital that was awaiting a heart transplant.  He was visiting this hospital with Babe Ruth’s granddaughter, who shared a story of when her famous grandfather told a sick boy that he would hit a home run for him, and then proceeded to do just that.  Inspired by this story this young heart patient approached Gardner gave him a bracelet and told him he would hit a home run for her that night.

Well Gardner was not even in the starting lineup that night so the chances of hitting a home run lay somewhere between slim and none.  But then a Yankee player got ejected for arguing with an umpire – and Gardner was called into action.  Here is his second at-bat of the night.

This was not how Gardner imagined that it would happen, but what a story it made.  Gardner hoped that his new friend would be right.  He prayed that he would somehow hit a home run for her in the game even though it seemed almost impossible in his mind.  He also prayed that God would provide a heart donor for her.  And the icing on the cake part of the story is that the young girl received her heart transplant the very same day.

Gardner had his prayer answered and in an unexpected way.  Here a few lessons that I take from this story:

First – God cares about the little things.  In the grand scheme things, a fast baseball player and a strange bounce leading to an inside-the-park-home-run don’t seem to matter much.   But our God is a personal God and through this event, lives were touched and awareness of God’s willingness to answer prayer was increased in the lives of a baseball player and his young fan. (as well as countless others like me, who read the story).

Second – God can do things that seem unlikely, and even impossible.  That is His way of growing our faith.  We see something and believe that God will work it out even if we don’t get how, and when He does work it out it makes having faith in Him in the future, easier.

Third – What happens may not look like how we dreamed it would, but it fits perfectly into God’s plans.
Gardner prayed to slug one out of the park but instead he hit an inside the park home run using the skills that God had given him (his speed) to accomplish the task.

God equips us all with gifts, talents and abilities and asks us to use them for his purposes.  When we do amazing things happen!

In Luke 5, Peter and others have been fishing all night.  Jesus comes and tells him to cast out their nets again.  Peter resists (We’ve been fishing all night with no results) but obeys anyway, and they catch a boatload of fish.  Peter says “get away from me, I am a sinful man”  recognizing the power of God in Jesus.
But Jesus has a comforting statement for him. Follow me and I will make you “fishers of men”.  Jesus is telling Peter that he will still be doing what he is already equipped to do, but with a Kingdom purpose.

Brett Gardner still keeps the bracelet that the girl gave him.  He says in his article that it is not just a reminder about the power of prayer, but also about the One who answers the prayers.  God is in control, and His plan is perfect.  We may not see how it will work out, or may think that the task is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19.26)

Play Ball Tim Hudson!

This is the 20th installment in my series featuring Christian Baseball players.  Today, we will take a look at Atlanta Braves starting pitcher – Tim Hudson.

career stats

Yesterday was Tim Hudson’s birthday.  I know this because it is also my birthday.  I thought it would be fitting to share his story and something that we have in common besides our birthday – wives that share our love for God and call to minister to others.

Hudson’s road to the majors was a wild ride.  He was an afterthought to recruiters in high school, deemed to be too small, despite being the best pitcher on his state championship winning team.  He moved on to community college and lead the baseball team there to a state championship.  Finally he was offered a scholarship to play at Auburn.  Success followed him to college too, as he was the 1997 college player of the year.  The Oakland A’s drafted him and in 1999 he made his major league debut.  His persistence and talent overcame the fear that he was undersized.

Over his 12 year major league career, Hudson has put up very respectable statistics, winning 80 more games than he has lost, and only twice has his earned run average been over 4.00.  He has proved that an “undersized” pitcher can do well in the majors.
There have been some struggles. In 2008, he began to feel tightness in the elbow of his throwing arm.  He was losing velocity and was examined by the team doctor.  The prognosis was not encouraging.  He would need ligament replacement (Tommy John) surgery.  This injury would cost him more than a year to recover and rehab, and there would be no guarantee that he would be the pitcher that he had been before.

The Hudson Family, Tim, Kim and
their 3 kids

But the right-hander’s come back was quite successful – Hudson was the 2010 comeback player of the year in the National League.  Guideposts Magazine ran an article that he wrote himself about his return to baseball from injury.  I really resonate with the role that his wife played in this process.  She was his encourager, his place to vent,  to share concerns and frustrations, and his cheer leader when he was healing and rehabbing.  She was also there to remind him that in the end, the outcome of the whole injury and rehab is ultimately in God’s hands.

It is so great to see the partnership that happens in a marriage.  The Hudsons are not an exclusive case, I’m sure lots of players in MLB partner with their wives to impact the lives of others. But this story reminds us that God brings people together in a marriage partnership to help each other out in hard times, to rejoice together in successes and above all else, to keep each other looking to God.  God is in control and whatever happens, good or bad, God can use to teach us more about Him, and to further His kingdom.

Even rehabbing from injury.

In 1999, a chance encounter with the Make-a-Wish foundation at a restaurant placed the idea in the minds and hearts of the Hudsons to help families in need. They established a working relationship with the Make-A-Wish foundation.   Still they felt called to do more.  As Hudson was recovering from his injury, he and his wife had enough time to organize and create their own foundation.  You can read the story about the start of their foundation here.  And take a moment to visit the Hudson Family Foundation web site here to learn more.

 I have been blessed in my own life with an amazing, godly wife, who is my partner in ministry. (we served as missionaries for 3 years and now we lead the 5th and 6th grade youth group at our church) She is also my encourager, my ear to vent to, and my cheerleader, and helps us as a family keep our focus on God and our eyes open to see him at work in our lives.  Steph is currently on a mission trip in Jamaica and I am excited to hear about all the great things that He has been doing during their week of ministry there.  Take a moment to check out her blog at  Sharing the Pages of Life.

Tim and Kim Hudson and their family have seen God work in their lives, and work through them to touch the lives of countless others.  I am grateful for their work and for their desire to touch lives for God. And I am grateful for my wife, Steph and look forward to years and years of ministering together and touching lives for God, too.

Happy 36th Birthday Tim Hudson!